What's In Blue

Posted Fri 20 Aug 2021

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday (23 August), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing on Yemen, followed by consultations. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore are expected to brief. General Abhijit Guha, the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), will brief during consultations.

At Monday’s session, Khiari is likely to report that ceasefire talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group remain stalled. The talks have revolved around a UN four-point plan for a nationwide ceasefire, the opening of Sana’a airport, the lifting of restrictions on Hodeidah’s ports and the resumption of a political process. As Martin Griffiths noted in his final Council briefing as UN Special Envoy to Yemen on 15 June, the Houthis are insisting on a stand-alone agreement on opening Sana’a airport and Hodeidah’s ports before agreeing to discuss a ceasefire, while the government wants these issues agreed to and implemented as part of a package. Khiari is also expected to observe a lack of progress in implementing the Saudi Arabia-brokered Riyadh Agreement—the 2019 power-sharing deal between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council— amid months of renewed tensions between the sides.

Khiari is also likely to report that fighting continues along various front lines, including in Marib, al-Bayda, Shabwa and Hodeidah governorates. Yemeni government forces, who are backed by airstrikes by Saudi Arabia, continue to fight Houthi forces outside of the government-held Marib City.  A Houthi counter-offensive reversed recent government gains last month in al-Badya governorate and enabled Houthi incursions into Shabwa governorate.

Monday’s meeting follows the 6 August appointment of Hans Grundberg as the Secretary-General’s new Special Envoy for Yemen. Grundberg has been serving as EU ambassador to Yemen since 2019, based out of Amman. According to a UN press release, Grundberg headed the Gulf Division at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time when Sweden hosted the UN-facilitated talks that culminated in the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement that included the establishment of a ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate. In their statements on Monday, Council members are likely to welcome the appointment of Grundberg, who has not yet formally started his new position.

Griffiths will provide his first briefing on Yemen as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. He is expected to set out the humanitarian challenges in Yemen, which is experiencing a heightened risk of famine and where more than 20.1 million people require some form of assistance. Griffiths may highlight the need for more action to address the Yemeni economy’s collapse, which is the major driver of the country’s humanitarian crisis. Since last month, the exchange rate of Yemen’s currency has been trading at record lows of around 1000 Yemeni rials to the dollar in government-held areas. Moreover, the government’s restrictions on fuel imports this year through the Houthi-held Hodeidah ports has driven up fuel costs in northern Yemen.

Griffiths is expected to reiterate the UN’s calls for foreign exchange injections into Yemen’s banks to strengthen the rial and bring down prices. In addition, he is likely to call for an end to impediments on ships entering Hodeidah ports, and for an end to forms of market manipulation that are driving up costs. ACAPS—a nonprofit, nongovernmental project that provides humanitarian analysis—released a report on 17 August which says that the fuel import restrictions have not resulted in a fuel shortage in the Houthi-controlled north, since overland transport of fuel from ports in government areas have offset the reduction in imports through Hodeidah. However, fuel has still become much more expensive because of increased logistical costs, double levying of import taxes, the setting of higher profit margins and the Houthis’ artificial rationing of fuel in Houthi-controlled areas.

Fore is expected to focus on the conflict’s effects on Yemen’s children. According to UNICEF, close to 400,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition—meaning that they risk death from a lack of food—and 2.25 million children face acute malnutrition. Children make up 1.71 million of Yemen’s more than three million people who are internally displaced by the conflict. According to a UNICEF 2021 mid-term report, which was issued on 13 August, children continue to be adversely affected by the fighting, as 82 children were killed (17 percent of whom were girls) and 268 children were maimed (24 percent of whom were girls) by various parties to the conflict this year. Children also continue to be recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups in Yemen. According to the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which was made public on 21 June, 70 percent of child combatants in 2020 were recruited and used by the Houthis.

In addition, Fore is likely to address the war’s effects on education in Yemen. A 5 July UNICEF report titled “Education Disrupted: Impact of the conflict on children’s education in Yemen” says that more than two million children are out of school, more than double the figure prior to the war. Hundreds of schools have come under attack or used for military purposes during the war, and the report notes that an estimated 171,600 teachers, or two thirds of the teaching workforce, have not been paid a regular salary for four years.

Council members are generally united in their positions on Yemen, as they support UN-led mediation efforts and have repeatedly called for a nationwide ceasefire. Members share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the environmental threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, the moored ship in the Red Sea off the Ras Issa oil terminal, which threatens to create an environmental catastrophe as the UN continues to negotiate with the Houthis on the granting of access to send an assessment mission to the vessel.

Earlier this year, the US lent new momentum to UN efforts to negotiate a ceasefire after it appointed a US Special Envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, in February. In addition, Oman, which maintains relations with the Houthis, has increased its mediation efforts since May. The US and the European members of the Council tend to be more critical of what they view as Houthi obstructionism, while Russia is more cautious in singling out the group—a dynamic that has sometimes played out this year during negotiations on Council products.